The rumors have picked up again about the Eagles relationship with WR DeSean Jackson. Jackson has made some noise about his contract this offseason and often when that happens some teams will decide it is best to move on that to continue a relationship. This is potentially a situation the Eagles had planned for back in 2012 when they signed Jackson to his current contract extension.
When the Eagles first signed Jackson in 2012 there was likely a disagreement about his true value. Jackson had clashed with the Eagles for two years over his desire for a contract and in 2011 his production seemed to suffer as he was unhappy with the situation. That was probably a red flag of sorts but there was a lot invested in the Eagles team and they did not want to chance losing a potentially dynamic player.
My own thoughts at the time was that Jackson’s production merited somewhere around a $9 million a year number. He wasn’t a player that transcended the position like Larry Fitzgerald and there had to be worries about his body and attitude. Still that number was going to put him in the upper echelon of receivers. But Jackson, like most, had a number in mind that he needed to see in order to be happy with the contract.
The Eagles went up to $9.7 million a year, but the contract itself was heavily backloaded. The Eagles would pay him $18 million in the first two seasons, an average of $9 million a year. His last three years would pay him $30.5 million with a chance to earn higher salaries based on performance. While the cost to cut Jackson was $6 million in 2014, the Eagles have always been a well managed cap team, and the lack of a salary cap floor in the new CBA simply meant the Eagles would carry over more cap room than they ever had before. So they were willing to sign off on the deal with little hesitation.
Jackson would have a terrible 2012 season as he battled injuries most of the year. He came back to have the best year of his career in 2013 and immediately there was talk of wanting a new deal. Since signing his contract in 2012 times had changed for receivers with Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace, and Dwayne Bowe all earning over $11 million a season. Jackson dominated those players statistically last year. In his mind it should be time to cash in.
From the Eagles standpoint they probably look at his salary this year as more than fair as Jackson is actually going to earn the fifth highest salary of any receiver with his $10.75 million salary. From his perspective the salary is not guaranteed, nor is any of his $20 million he is going to earn the next two years. Philadelphia, who is attempting to change the culture of the organization, likely does not want the distraction that might be made again by a sulking Jackson when the regular season begins and may see it best to just move on. The contract was designed that way anyway.
The issue for Jackson moving forward is that the receiver market took a major step back in 2014. Eric Decker, the most highly regarded receiver available, received just $7.5 million a year with $15 million guaranteed. Decker came off a 1200 yard season in Denver but faced knocks about not being a true number 1 receiver and that part of his production was based on the QB and system in Denver rather than his ability. I would think Jackson would face those same criticisms.
I don’t think any team in the NFL would trade for Jackson and then pay him somewhere in the realm of $11 million a season, even in funny money at the backend of a contract. I’m sure a team would guarantee him this years’ salary and maybe even a portion of his 2015 salary, but I think there would be few teams to pay him much above what he is earning now. His ideal destination lies with a team that simply has the cap room to carry him at his current salary figures, which is exactly what happened when the Chicago Bears traded for Brandon Marshall a few years ago. That type of contract structure would appeal to the Raiders, Jets, Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Bears. The Bears and Buccaneers already have two star players and would not be interested. If a deal was to be made it might be worth looking at those other three teams. Other teams are certainly rumored.
Oakland has the most need of anyone but has been reluctant in free agency this year to spend big dollars. They also do not have a QB in place to really fling the ball down the field either, so its hard to tell what their interest level would really be. The Jets might be interesting as they should have a significant number of draft picks to spare, but they have also shown some reluctance this year to be heavily involved in free agency. When Jets GM John Idzik was in Seattle that front office never shied away from making a trade as long as they felt the player fit their system. I don’t know if a player like Jackson would necessarily fit the vision Idzik has for the Jets and he would rely on their offensive coordinator for more inside knowledge about Jackson. The Jaguars have two receivers already but one is suspended so they might consider it as a way to improve the offense. They have been a bit more active than the other two this offseason.
The San Francisco 49ers have picks that they can probably dump, but he would be hard to fit inside their salary cap. The 49ers had to resort to using voidable contract years to fit Anquan Boldin into their salary cap for this season and then next year they will be looking to extend Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, and Michael Crabtree. Getting Jackson would be the ultimate “this is our window” move. Currently I have them with about $4.4 million in cap space, but they will gain an additional $5.5 million when Carlos Rogers comes off the books on June 2. To get Jackson in without significant changes to his contract would require the release of RB Frank Gore, who might be considered completely obsolete if they are going to a pure vertical passing attack. Releasing Gore opens up $6.45 million in cap space, likely giving them a chance to keep up with the cap while awaiting June 2 for Rogers to provide cap relief.
New England is also rumored, but I am not sure how well Jackson fits in with their offense anymore. Tom Brady did not excel last season down the field and while Jackson is a far better player than the Patriots other receivers, there were times Brady just missed when guys were open down the field. Not counting Edelman the Patriots had just $8.8 million in cap room, but releasing DT Vince Wilfork will save the team $8 million and that move seems likely. I would anticipate the Patriots trying to add Danny Amendola into any trade with Philadelphia and if they can dump him off along with a draft pick that would be a big win for New England.
Kansas City’s head coach has a relationship with Jackson and would certainly like him but their salary cap may be one of the more difficult to navigate in the NFL. Alex Smith will almost certainly get a large raise either this year or next and the team will have to make some hard decisions on veteran next year to maneuver the cap without Jackson on the team. This would be the one destination where Jackson would get the extension he wants because it is hard to imagine the Chiefs having any alternative with their salary cap.